A progressive media honcho answers questions
What work do you do?
I’m the editor of The Progressive magazine and the director of the Progressive Media Project. I am also the host of a half-hour weekly radio show unimaginatively called Progressive Radio, and I do two-minute radio commentaries five days a week at our website, which some stations pick up. In addition, I write “This Just In” commentaries several times a week for the website, and I’ve written more than 80 items on “McCarthyism Watch” on the site, as well.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
My mornings are my most efficient time. I get up at about 5:30 a.m., grab The New York Times while I walk our basset hound, and then do an hour of work either catching up on newspapers and magazines or writing personal thank-you notes to donors. Once I get to work at 8:00, I read the Times carefully and clip out important articles. I glance at the local paper, and check my emails, and write up a two-minute radio script, which I record at a studio a block away at 9:45 a.m. When I come back to the office, I do reporting for McCarthyism Watch and meet with staff. Then I play basketball. (That’s the highlight of my day!) When I come back, I check emails again, meet with staff, do correspondence, edit copy, and prepare for any speaking engagements I might have. I’m home by 6:00 p.m.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
I’ve been interested in political issues and current events my whole life. My parents were Adlai Stevenson Democrats, and we often talked politics around the house. I was a political geek. I remember writing Hubert Humphrey a letter after he lost in 1968; I was 10. Four years later, I was leafleting for George McGovern. I went to Harvard from 1976 to 1980, where I was very involved in campus anti-apartheid activism. (I was a pamphleteer and an organizer.) I also studied left-wing political philosophy, including Marx, Antonio Gramsci, and Herbert Marcuse. Right after graduating, I moved down to Washington, D.C., to work on a small magazine called Multinational Monitor, which Ralph Nader had founded. It was a natural step to take, since I had been exploring the role of multinational corporations in shoring up the apartheid system of South Africa.
But there were only three of us at Multinational Monitor, and it was a burnout job, so I applied to work at The Progressive here in Madison, Wis. I had wanted to come back to the Midwest (I was born and raised in a suburb of Chicago) and to work on a magazine with a larger pallet. I came to The Progressive for a vacation and it’s turned into a long one. I started as associate editor, then managing editor, then publisher, and then, when our longtime editor Erwin Knoll died tragically of a heart attack in 1994, I became editor.
Madison is a great place to live, and I met my wife in line at a restaurant here almost 20 years ago. We’ve got three kids (Sam is 17, Katherine 14, and Will 13), and they keep us busy.
How many emails are currently in your inbox?
Every weekday morning, I check my two email accounts: my own, and the magazine’s generic editorial account, firstname.lastname@example.org. I get about 100 a day in my own account and twice that in the generic. Most are mass mailings or listserv messages, so I barely glance at those. But the ones that are addressed to me or the magazine itself I try to respond to right away, as briefly as possible. One way I keep up is to process mail when I’m on the phone, especially with someone who is talking my ear off! I don’t check my email on the weekends or when I’m at home, though. I need to maintain some separation between work and life.
With whom do you interact regularly as part of your job?
On a day-to-day basis, I mostly interact with the staff of The Progressive and our writers. But I also do a lot of reporting, which allows me to talk with protesters as well as police officers, the Secret Service, and the FBI.
What do you consider your environmental coming-of-age moment or experience?
I’m a birdwatcher. Have been since I was four years old. Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds was my bible as a kid. I also read books about the ivory-billed woodpecker and the eskimo curlew and the great auk and the whooping crane, so I knew from a very young age about the fragility of our ecosystems and the barbarity of human actions in it.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
Well, the worst was finding out that our accountant at The Progressive had embezzled $75,000 from us. He was a longtime employee, a member of our union here (he also ripped off union funds), and someone that I trusted. The second worst was firing a couple of employees. That was no fun.
What’s been the best?
The best is dealing with great writers, such as June Jordan, Howard Zinn, Molly Ivins, Eduardo Galeano, and Barbara Ehrenreich. We also just had the 95th anniversary celebration of The Progressive, and that was great fun.
What’s on your desk right now?
I have a stack of leads for my “McCarthyism Watch,” which chronicles incidents of political repression in America. I have a donation to acknowledge, and a radio show to prepare for. I also have manuscripts to edit.
Who is your environmental hero?
Who is your environmental nightmare?
George Bush, Gale Norton.
What’s your environmental vice?
I drive to work too much.
How do you get around?
In my 1994 Toyota Corolla.
What are you reading these days?
What’s your favorite meal?
I like to cook my own stir-fry: filet, spinach, red peppers, ginger, onions, garlic, cilantro, and basil. It’s the 10-minute meal.
Are you a news junkie? Where do you get your news?
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
The arboretum at the University of Wisconsin. I was just there on Sunday and the warblers were all over the place: golden-winged, blue-winged, black-throated blue, Wilson’s, bay-breasted, chestnut-sided. It is spectacular during migration, and very peaceful. The best spot is on skunk-cabbage bridge, with a little creek underneath. I stood on the bridge for almost two hours and just let the birds come to me.
Would you label yourself an environmentalist?
What was your favorite band when you were 18? How about now?
I loved Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and the Cars when I was in high school. Now I like Steve Earle and Ani DiFranco.
What’s your favorite TV show? Movie?
TV: Everybody Loves Raymond (for about 10 minutes, then it gets annoying). Favorite movie: A River Runs Through It, and Quiz Show.
Mac or PC?
What are you happy about right now?
I’m very distressed about the state of the world, about the direction and policies of George W. Bush: his war on terror, which is making us less safe, not more; his messianic militarism, which is knocking over the wall between church and state; his assault on civil liberties; his offensive against women’s rights and gay rights; and his ravaging of the environment. But in my personal life, I am very happy.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Read poetry, watch birds, go to a protest.